'Today.' Jack thought. Today he would run away from home. He'd been planning it with Jess for a year. They were finally sixteen, he had a van, and they had saved enough money from babysitting and part-time work. He was fed up with his dads drunken stupors. Having to work to support the both of them was tiring. She couldn't take her mother’s verbal torture, or her older brothers 'playful fighting'. The latter leaving her with large, ugly bruises. She was scared for her life.
Jack walked quietly past his father’s prone form on the shabby couch in what was left of the living room. The house had slowly become a war zone. His dad’s fists had taken large chunks out of the drywall when he was angry. Jack hoped he could get his things outside before his dad woke up. It would take at least four more trips.
Thankfully they'd been storing their things in the garage for a few days, minimizing what they would have to carry out that night. He opened the screen door as quietly as he could, propping it open with the box in his hands before returning to the landing where he had left the rest of his belongings. He looked at the mattress leaning against the wall. It was a risk. It would make more noise than the boxes when he tried to get it out of the house. He hoped it wouldn't be too much. If his father caught him it wouldn't be just the drywall that took a beating.
I woke up with a start. The nightmare had been so realistic.
*My mom had been awake for work earlier than normal and had caught us as we tried to make our escape. She had woken my brother and Jacks dad. They had beaten him while my mother laid into me, calling me ungrateful, spoiled and selfish.*
I breathed a sigh, relieved knowing that my mom was still in bed, and my brother over at his girlfriend’s house. I was relatively safe. Not that I ever felt completely safe in this place. I glanced at the clock. Four AM. We had two hours left to finish packing and go. I hopped out of bed and headed for the bathroom.
I showered quickly, not knowing how long I would have to go without one. I dried off and dressed in track pants and a sweatshirt. I put the last of my shower things into a box. Looking at my discarded towel it occurred to me that Jack may not pack towels, blankets or pillows. I found an extra box and packed as many as I could. I walked all the boxes down to the front door one by one. I was looking around, saying my finals goodbyes to hell on earth when I realized, neither of us was in charge of bringing food. I opened a box, packing as many cans, boxes, and bags of food as I could from the cupboards. I then found our cooler bags and filled them with water, juice, fruits and veggies taking no meat. It would go bad before we could eat it all. Jack had a camp stove in the garage. We could bring that with us.
I lugged the boxes and the coolers over to his driveway. There were no lights on in the house, but the things from the garage had been packed the night before, there were new boxes sitting beside his car and the front door was open. I returned to my front porch for the last time. I grabbed my backpack having filled it with ways to kill time on the road, including my laptop and cell phone. Jack had found a way to deactivate the GPS tracker in the phone. I carefully locked the door and walked back across the street, where Jack was pulling a mattress out the door.
As Jack hauled the mattress out the front door he glanced up, spotting Jess as she walked across the street. Her bag slung over her shoulder and her face set with determination. She was ready to leave.
"Think we packed enough?" he asked, gesturing to the pile of boxes that still needed to be put away.
“No. But I’m glad you thought about a bed. I guess the best part of you buying the van is that we can sleep in it, and fit all our boxes in too."
"Well," he responded, lifting the mattress "I thought you might like a place to sleep since we don’t have enough money for hotels every night. And we needed something big. You have a lot of clothes." he smirked, sliding the mattress into the back of the van.
Jack thought about when he had bought the van. He had gone to the second-hand dealership in town, looking for the perfect runaway car. He had come across the van near the back of the lot. It had been perfect. Enough space for sleeping and storing their belongings, with folding back seats. As well as getting good gas mileage.
"It'll keep us warm at night too. I hope."
"How soon can we be out of here?" she asked, glancing back and forth between his house and hers.
"Once I get everything in the car we can go."
She smiled, lifting a box. "Then we'd better get started. It's almost four thirty. My mom leaves for work at six.
“That’s the last of the boxes.” Jack said as he closed the back of the van.
“Alright!” I fist pumped the air and hopped toward the passenger door. “I think we should head south, towards Toronto, maybe as far as Hamilton for now. It’s about a three hour drive. I think that could be far enough. At least for now.”
He nodded. “Okay. I suppose that will do. I will miss it here though.”
“But nothing good has ever happened here. Why would you miss this place?” I asked. Neither of us had ever liked living in our small town of Sundridge with our families. The only things we had to console ourselves were the beautiful forest and beach that surround the area.
“We may not have loved the way we were raised, or the people who did the raising, but we still had plenty of good times here too. Like the tree fort we built last summer, or the baby deer we saw with its mother. Living here wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“I guess you’re right.” I responded, opening the door to climb into the van.
I suppose life hadn’t been horrible, but it hadn’t exactly been ideal. Every happy memory was tinged with sadness by the simple fact that we used our time there to hide from the problems of our home lives. Most of the time I sported a black eye. I wasn’t going to miss it.
“Hurry up and get in Jack. I want out of this place, fast.”
Jack rolled his eyes at Jess as he climbed into the van.
“Yes your highness.” He laughed, closing the door as quietly as he could. She punched his arm.
“Let’s get some coffee. It’s early, and we’re going to be driving for a long time. Might keep you awake.”
“Anything else?” he sighed, pulling out of the driveway.
“Yes, lighten up. We’re finally free!” she grinned at him, the most beautiful face splitting grin he had ever seen from her.
Jack stopped at the nearest Tim Hortons in Huntsville before continuing their journey south. Jess quickly fell asleep and Jack was left to his thoughts.
‘What will we do if we get caught? No one will believe us if we say that our home lives aren’t right. They’ll say we’re just kids. They always say that. And what am I supposed to do with her? She’s like a sister to me, but how do I keep her safe in the city, especially one I’ve never been to before?’ he was worried that she would want to run around and explore their new surroundings. She may want to shop and spend some of their precious savings on new clothes, and anything else she may find appealing.
I slept while Jack drove. It would be another two hours, at least, before we got to Hamilton.
I woke up as Jack pulled to a stop on King Street. He jumped out of the van and looked around.
“Stay here.” He said. “I’m going to find a place to sleep tonight.”
We had driven straight through from Huntsville without stopping, and now that we were in Hamilton Jack wanted to find a place to stay and then go in search of work. We were planning on finding an apartment to rent the next day.
I nodded my head, and as he turned to shut the door I said “Be careful.” I whispered
Without turning he nodded and kicked the door closed behind him.
Once I got bored with channel surfing the radio I turned my gaze to the window. Jack had driven us into the ‘downtown’ area of Hamilton. There were a lot of old brick buildings mixed in with the newer buildings with glass everywhere. This place scared me. I’d never been one for big cities. I’d gone to Northbay once as a child and had refused to leave Sundridge ever again and except for school I never did, until now. It hit me then that we had really done it. We had run away from home! Free at last! I punched the roof of the van in triumph.
“I will never go back.” I said proudly as the van door opened again.
“Glad to hear it. I don’t want to have to drive your butt all the way back there. I found us a place to crash.” He said climbing into the van. “But hopefully we’re able to get into an apartment soon because after tonight we’ll be sleeping in the van.”
“Why?” jess asked, pouting slightly as if disappointed things weren’t going to be easy.
“Because,” he said, rolling his eyes “all I could find was a hotel, and it’s incredibly expensive to stay in a hotel.”
“Does it matter? All you need to know is this: if you want to eat, and find a place to live, we can't afford it. Especially since I had to bribe the concierge. Normally they don’t rent to teens. And you’re supposed to pay with a credit card.”
“Sorry.” She mumbled
“Never mind. Anyways the building we’re parked across from is called Jackson Square. It’s a mall, but there's also a hotel inside. There’s an underground parking garage too. We’ll park there and then go to our room.”
“Will you leave me alone in order to find a job?” jess asked, looking scared.
“Well, you'll be safe in the hotel, so yes.”
“What if I want a job too?”
“You can get one later. Let me try first.” He said, putting the key in the ignition.
Jess huffed and crossed her arms as they pulled into the street and then shortly after into the garage.
After jack got her settled, he left jess to explore the hotel room while he went to fill out job applications and hand out resumes. He even stopped by the library to search the Hamilton ads on kijiji.
When he came back to the room several hours later, Jess was curled up on the bed reading a book. He smiled, finally feeling as if they could do this.
I spent the entire day in our hotel room. I thought I would get bored and sneak out, but with the TV, free Wi-Fi, books and room service I was entertained. In fact, I never wanted to leave. I wanted to spend the rest of my life in the Sheraton with its Jacuzzi tub and scented bubble bath. It was heaven.
By the time Jack returned to the room at seven I was curled up on the bed reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’. I quickly finished the page and closed the book.
“What are you reading?”
“My favorite book.” I grinned, holding the book in his direction.
“Ah. Jane Austen. I should have guessed.”
“Is it that obvious? Then go away!” I yelled playfully. “Darcy was just about to confess his love for Elizabeth.”
“Oh, well pardon my intrusion ma’am.”
I huffed in response, throwing a pillow at him as he headed towards the bathroom. Opening the book again I returned to Mr. Darcy and his fumbling proposal of marriage.
When he exited the bathroom half an hour later Jess was still engrossed in her book. Shaking his head at her he turned on the TV., hoping to kill some time until she had read her fill and wanted to sleep.
Since the channels in Hamilton were different from those in Sundridge he decided to start at channel three and keep going until he found something interesting. When he got to channel twelve, he stopped. There on the screen were pictures of him and Jess. They had already made the news.
Turning up the volume he turned to face Jess “Put your book down and come here.” He said quietly.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, getting up off the bed…
“The news.” He said, turning back to the screen. I turned to face the tv and felt my eyes grow wide as I stared at my picture next to Jacks on the screen. Our parents had already figured it out. I started to shake. If the news had already made it this far, we were in trouble. The police would be on the lookout for us.
I glanced at Jack, an idea slowly forming.
“Jack, have you read ‘The Outsiders?”
“Yes, of course. But what does that have to do with anything?”
“Think about it. When Ponyboy and Johnny run away they cut their hair, and even dye Ponyboy’s. We can do that! We’ll go buy some hair dye and scissors! We won’t be as easily recognized then!” I grinned.
He beamed back at me. “You’re a genius! Why didn’t I think of that?!”
“Because you, my friend were in panic mode. you weren’t exactly thinking straight.”
“I guess. We need to find a job even more now. We’re going to run out of….”
“Money?” I ask, confused as to why he’d stopped talking.
“no. Well yes, but no. I just realized that I sent out all those resumes with my name on them.”
“oh.my…I guess I hadn’t thought of that where will we go now?”
“Nowhere. We’ll stay here.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re all over the news. If we run they’ll still come. We’ll cut and dye our hair, and look for work. Just because we have the same names as runaway teens, doesn't mean we’re them. Get it?”
“Yes.” I nod.
The next morning they headed out of the hotel lobby for breakfast and disguises. As they browsed the Rexall in the mall jess jumped excitedly.
“Glasses!” she whispered “we should buy glasses!”
Jack looked at her, trying to decide if she’d gone crazy or not. “Uh, why?” jack asked
“Because, neither of us wear them! We’ll look even more different!”
Jack smiled at her. She really was very smart. Always thinking on the spot.
After purchasing their items they headed back to their room, where Jess helped him cut and dye his hair before she did her own. He watched as the blonde slowly disappeared, being taken over by the dye.
“Look at that! Black hair suits you!” she said, kissing him on the cheek.
“Oh. I guess.” He replied dryly. “Well, finish your hair, and then we’ll go look at apartments. We’ll hand out some resumes as well.”